SEATTLE — It's plastered on three billboards, all positioned within two miles of KeyArena. Embedded between images of Kevin Durant and Luke Ridnour reads the Seattle Sonics slogan for this basketball season.
"Be Part of It.” The irony is this entire region already is. Knowingly or not, each of the near 3.3 million residents in Seattle's metro area is involved in the current confusion and murky future that embodies this city's oldest pro sports team. An arena dispute between the city and the team's Oklahoma-based ownership group has put in jeopardy Seattle's 41-year love fest with pro basketball. The Sonics on Thursday night played the first of what could be only 40 more home games inside much-maligned KeyArena. A move to Oklahoma City could happen as early as next season. On the day of the team's home opener, and one day before an expected announcement regarding the team's future, many locals weren't quite sure how to treat the Sonics. For some, it's ‘So long Sonics. Nice knowing you.' Others vow to fight until the end, determined to do what little they can to save the Sonics and WNBA's Storm. But even the most avid fan sounds resigned to the fact that both teams will have an Oklahoma City mailing address this time next year. The sound of defeat resonates loudest from callers of talk radio.
"I felt like I was watching somebody else's team.”Words like inevitable, helpless and disenfranchised fill the radio waves. The Sonics opened the season Wednesday night in Denver, resulting in a 120-103 loss that is expected to be the first of many drubbings this season. But it wasn't the highly anticipated NBA debut of phenom, No. 2 overall pick Durant, that lit up the phone lines of KJR 950-AM. Much of the talk — when programming found time to break away from Tyrone Willingham and the University of Washington — centered on the future of the Sonics franchise. "This Sonics season is looking like a basketball version of (the movie) Major League,” text messaged in a fan named Greg. "It was hard watching the game because you didn't know who the team belonged to,” said KJR host Dave "Softy” Mahler. "It was hard for me to get into it because I didn't know which team I was watching. Was I watching Oklahoma, or was I watching Seattle? I felt like I was watching somebody else's team.” Mahler, 33, grew up in the Seattle suburb of Bellevue and is a 13-year employee of KJR. He's known in the Seattle market as being the voice of the fans for the way his blunt opinions mirror the average Joe's. "The hardcore fans here are trying to do everything they can,” Mahler said. "And it's just been like swimming upstream. I think the NBA has taken a backseat in this town to the NFL and to the MLB. A lot of fans have jumped off the wagon.” The Sonics landed in this position because of the recently-built, neighboring stadiums of the Seahawks and Mariners. Qwest Field and Safeco Field are both jaw-dropping mammoths. Down the road no more than 15 minutes, sits KeyArena in the shadows of the Space Needle. Its architecture causes you to turn up your nose when compared to its exquisite counterparts. "The majority of people do not want to public fund a new arena. There's no question about that,” Mahler said. "Most people look at KeyArena and think, ‘What's wrong with KeyArena?' "The problem is they don't look at what other teams play in. They don't know that KeyArena is the smallest arena in the NBA. They don't see the (unfavorable) lease agreement the Sonics have at KeyArena compared to other teams have. They don't live in that world.”
"I want the Sonics in Seattle.”Brian Robinson's Blackberry Pearl buzzes every three minutes while sitting at a table for two along the windows at a North Seattle Panera Bread.
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